Game-Filled Park Is School for South African Kids

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"It's amazing how much math is to be found out there," Williams says.

Language, speech, and debate classes focus on current conservation issues. A recent student debate centered on whether animals in the wild should be watered during a severe drought. In another example, the discovery of a dead animal could lead to an investigation of where it fits in the food chain, how and why it died, and what constitutes its environmental niche.

Preparing Future Conservationists

The idea for the school originated with Sue Godding, who at the time was managing a game lodge in the Thorny Bush Reserve, which is attached to Kruger National Park. When her children reached school age, rather than leave for the metropolitan areas as many lodge-management couples do, she decided to try to start a school that offered a top-shelf education and also made use of the exceptional natural environment.

Godding views nature-based tourism as one of South Africa's national treasures. She is driven by the conviction that the country needs to generate leaders with a firm understanding of the environment and the need to preserve it.

"We do not want to turn out game rangers but leaders in all fields who, when needing to make an important decision, can do so with a sound knowledge of how this world is to survive in these modern climes," she says.

Another parent, Heidi Smith, soon joined Godding. Williams, who as director of studies at a school in Johannesburg was well known for his enthusiasm for hands-on environmental education, also became involved. The three agreed on a basic concept "which amounted to taking education and dropping it on nature," Godding said.

The land for the school was donated, and three businesspeople with connections to the area helped raise funds. Southern Cross opened in January 2002 with 40 pupils. Enrollment today is well over 100.

Passion, Williams says, was his ultimate criterion for the teachers he selected from 250 applicants.

Outreach and fund-raising efforts continue. A scholarship fund has been established to increase the number of pupils from the poorer black communities in the surrounding areas. Students studying to become teachers through correspondence schools can gain practical experience by sitting in on classes and observing.

A third program is being developed to train teachers to spread the word on the importance and value environmental protection, sustainable development, and conservation.

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